(Apologies for the curry blitz, but there’s a lot to be said on this spicy topic. So enjoy)
Hi team, I’m back for the now very delayed follow-up to my earlier post on Thai cooking. (Sorry, a couple vacations and a new doggy got in the way; say hi, Cicero!) Anyway, bottom line is you’ve had plenty of time to stock up on Thai staples. So now that we’ve bought some ingredients, let’s actually make something.
By far the most popular dishes are Thai curries, and for good reason: they’re easy to make, very forgiving, and the one-pot cooking really cuts down on the deadening task of doing the dishes. Add in the fact that they’re cheap and can be thrown together in the time it takes you to steam some rice, and you’ll understand why I make these all the time.
Curries can be made with whatever protein you want (chicken, beef, pork, tofu), so go crazy. In fact, I usually use curries as a way to use up leftover veggies or potatoes or whatever; just toss it all in there. As Carl Weathers says, “You got a stew goin’!” Here are a couple of my favorite curries, the first quite mild, the other a little spicier.
This is a mild, hearty curry, and basically everyone likes it. It’s sweet (even sweeter if you add in the pineapple), and people feel like they’re being adventurous eaters while eating something that would be considered dessert if it had fruit instead of veggies. Shakazulu!
Heat some oil (vegetable is good, a tablespoon or so) in a pot, then add some red curry paste (tablespoon or two; you can add more later if the curry isn’t orange enough) and stir it around until fragrant. Then add a little coconut milk (couple tablespoons) and stir until the curry paste is mostly dissolved and the milk is deep orange as a result, then add a lot more coconut milk (like, the rest of the can + one more). Basically, this is your curry. You’re going to boil/simmer it for a while to thicken it, also to help cook whatever else you put in it. When you put stuff in depends on how long it will take to cook/heat – onion goes in early and can be boiled, for example, but little pieces of chicken should be saved for later in the game during the simmer phase. I usually throw in roughly chopped onion (big pieces are a-ok b/c it gets real nice and soft in the curry), cubed mostly-boiled potato, cubed chicken or tofu, even sometimes pineapple chunks for sweetness. (They should be added in basically that order; the onion takes a little while to soften, the potato should be soft but not mushy, and the cubed chicken won’t take very long at all. Pineapple can be added when you’re about to eat.) When you’re all done and things are cooked nicely, throw in a tablespoon or so of fish sauce, stir it around, and then serve the whole thing over some steamed jasmine rice.
This is my favorite curry. It has a peanut-y flavor and is delicious and spicy and sweet all at once. The flavor is really made by the addition of kaffir lime leaves, but it’s still delicious without them.
Again, heat some oil (tablespoon) in a pot, then add some panang curry paste (a few tablespoons, depending on how many people you’re cooking for), and stir it around a bit. Add a little coconut milk (like before), and then a whole lot of coconut milk (rest of that can + another one). Bring to a boil and cook until thickened a bit, then add your remaining stuff. I do chicken pieces and frozen peas, sliced bell peppers, onions, and sometimes I’ll throw mushrooms in during the initial oil-heating phase to saute them a bit before the liquid is added. Feel free to improvise. At the end, though, remember to add 5 or 6 kaffir lime leaves (these should be torn to release some flavor, but not cut up too much b/c you’re going to want to eat around them; think bay leaves in French food), fish sauce, and some torn up basil. (If you can find purple-stem basil (not purple leaf), sometimes called Queen of Siam, it’s real Thai basil and is a better flavor for this dish, but really any basil will do.) Serve this up on some more delicious jasmine rice and go to town.
A note about that rice. I decided a few years ago to invest in a Costco rice-cooker, and I love it. If you have the counter space and $30 to spare, it’s the best and easiest way to cook rice. (Also, several rice-cookers have a steamer basket so you can steam veggies or (gasp!) fish while you cook your rice; more on this in a later post.)
But what if you don’t have a rice-cooker? Here’s what you do. First, you need to wash your rice: put it in a bowl, fill it with cold water, then stir it around with your hands. The water will get milky; dump out the water, replace it with fresh water, repeat. Do this 4 or 5 times. (We’re getting the excess starch out of the rice so it doesn’t burn when we cook it.) Put the washed and drained rice into a heavy flat-bottom pot with a lid (the heavier the better, so the rice cooks evenly; cast iron is great). Add water in about a 3-to-2 ratio to the rice (2 cups of rice, 3 cups of water, etc.). Turn your burner to medium high until the water starts to boil. Then cover the pot, turn the heat to very low, and let it do its thing for about 20 minutes. Then turn the heat off, but DON’T LIFT THE LID. Let it stay like that for 10 more minutes. NOW you can take off the lid and fluff your rice with a fork. You can even eat it. I dare you.